Tuesday, October 7, 2014 — An Egyptian’s Wise Words for Hong Kong’s Protesters

Mah­moud Salem, one of the Egypt­ian vet­er­ans of the 18 days in Tahrir Square, has some use­ful advise for pro-democracy pro­test­ers in Hong Kong, and it is very good advice. “Learn from our fail­ure,” he says, and lists eight points that match my own impres­sions and (some) pub­lished points. I list them here, with a few quotes. Go to the arti­cle to read the full text.

1. Do not count on the inter­na­tional community’s sup­port. “The inter­na­tional com­mu­nity espouses many plat­i­tudes it never actu­ally enforces or backs for all sorts of real­ist con­sid­er­a­tions — and being on China’s bad side is some­thing no Amer­i­can leader can countenance.”

2. The world’s atten­tion span is very lim­ited. “You have the world’s atten­tion now. Soon very few peo­ple will care. Now is the time to com­mu­ni­cate your message.”

3. Do not allow the gov­ern­ment to manip­u­late you.If you can’t define who you are, the gov­ern­ment will define it for you. They will try and turn the most obnox­ious and rad­i­cal of pro­tes­tors into the face of your move­ment. This becomes espe­cially true if your protest drags on, incon­ve­nienc­ing the same peo­ple whose sup­port you des­per­ately need. You then lose con­trol of the mes­sage — and it’s sur­pris­ingly easy for the gov­ern­ment to shift focus to a side issue the gov­ern­ment cre­ated or is happy to exploit.” “Another favorite gov­ern­ment tac­tic is pub­licly call­ing for dia­logue, while simul­ta­ne­ously arrang­ing for mobs to phys­i­cally attack pro­tes­tors — thus forc­ing demon­stra­tors to refuse dia­logue and appear unrea­son­able, as seemed to hap­pen on Oct. 3 in Hong Kong. The gov­ern­ment looks rea­son­able, and you look unrea­son­able and thuggish.”

4. Know who is with you on the local level. “One of the prob­lems of the Jan. 25 move­ment was that its lead­ers didn’t bother to find out which locals — peo­ple liv­ing in the same build­ing, or on the same street — sup­ported their cause.”

5. Do not allow inter­nal or exter­nal forces to sep­a­rate you from the peo­ple. “While you may be fight­ing for the rights of Hong Kong cit­i­zens, many of your fel­low cit­i­zens might not want to fight. The gov­ern­ment will use that to paint you as ‘dif­fer­ent,’ ‘foreign-funded,’ or ‘extrem­ist,’ to cre­ate a divide between you and the rest of the peo­ple.”

6. Do not count on your oppo­nent to think ratio­nally. “Sure, mas­sacring you in the streets may mean that they could lose face and tar­nish their rep­u­ta­tion, but Bei­jing will do what­ever it needs to main­tain power in Hong Kong”

7. Aban­don all hope. “Hope is fleet­ing and going into bat­tle with a height­ened sense of expec­ta­tion is a sure­fire path to defeat. Deter­mi­na­tion wins wars, not hope. And whether you like it or not, yours may end in a week, a month, even a decade.”

8. Aim for more, but know what to set­tle for. “Don’t be ashamed by set­tling; it’s bet­ter than los­ing everything.”

Salem’s points are all cogent. Much as arm­chair activists are charmed by the romance of rev­o­lu­tion in the streets, it rarely results in lib­er­a­tion. It works, as it did in Prague in 1989, when con­di­tions are exactly right and there are years of intel­li­gent prepa­ra­tion behind it. But most of the time it fails, or ush­ers in either new bru­tal mas­ters or re-invigorated old ones. Poorly orga­nized pro­test­ers who suc­ceed in over­throw­ing a regime will quickly find them­selves under the thumb of some total­i­tar­ian move­ment that is well orga­nized. Those who don’t suc­ceed will be quickly for­got­ten by a world that actu­ally doesn’t give a fuck about anybody’s free­dom — includ­ing their ownas long as the fuel keeps pour­ing into their cars and they can get cheap tube socks at Wal­mart. Those who imag­ined that “social media” would change the game were over-optimistic. It was a tem­po­rary advan­tage that repres­sive regimes soon met with effec­tive counter-strategies. No pro­test­ers could have been more ide­al­is­tic or sin­cere than the ones who met in Tianan­men Square in 1989. But min­utes after they were mas­sa­cred, their mur­der­ers were clink­ing cham­pagne glasses with emis­saries from George H. W. Bush. Now the bru­tal butch­ers are wel­come in every glam­our joint in the world, their bums are kissed and licked by every gov­ern­ment on the planet (most dis­gust­ingly, and with the most craven cow­ardice, by our Con­ser­v­a­tive Prime Min­is­ter in Canada), and they have suc­ceeded in effec­tively eras­ing the event from history.

It takes more than protests to win freedom.

FILMSSEPTEMBER 2014

(Fisher 1959) The Hound of the Baskervilles
(Shard­low 1983) Black­ad­der [The Black Adder]: Ep.6 ― The Black Seal
(Morse 1965) Flip­per Ep.16 ― Flipper’s Bank Account
(McDon­ald 1965) Flip­per Ep.17 ― The Life­guard
(Wyatt 2011) Rise of the Planet of the Apes [Riff­Trax ver­sion]
(Fletcher 1986) Black­ad­der [Black­ad­der II]: Ep.7 ― Bells
(Strock 1963) The Crawl­ing Hand Read more »

First-time listening for September 2014

24629. (Oscar Moore & Carl Perkins) The Oscar Moore Quar­tet with Carl Perkins
24630. (Alan Stiv­ell) E Lan­gonned
24631. (Manic 5) It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
24632. (Veld­huis & Kem­per) Wat Heb Je Nodig
24633. (Vek­tor) Outer Iso­la­tion
24634. (Yann Tiersen) Tout Est Calme Read more »

READINGSEPTEMBER 2014

24575. (V. M. Whit­worth) The Traitor’s Pit
24576. (Judith Beyer) Order­ing Ideals: Accom­plish­ing Well-Being in a Kyr­gyz Coop­er­a­tive of
. . . . . Elders [arti­cle]
24577. (Ken­neth J. Lavo­vara, et al) A Gigan­tic, Excep­tion­ally Com­plete Titanosaurian
. . . . . Sauro­pod Dinosaur from South­ern Patag­o­nia, Argentina [arti­cle]
(Shiva Rah­baran) Iran­ian Writ­ers Uncen­sored — Free­dom, Democ­racy, and the Word in
Con­tem­po­rary Iran: Read more »

Monday, September 29, 2014 — Two Pictures That Speak for Themselves

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in Hong Kong protest against attempts of the Com­mu­nist Party to crush democ­racy in Hong Kong. “The stu­dents are pro­tect­ing the right to vote, for Hong Kong’s future. We are not scared, we are not fright­ened, we just fight for it,” [Carol Chan, a 55-year-old civil ser­vice worker who said she took two days off to join the protests after becom­ing angered over police use of tear gas Sun­day, quoted by CBC News.] Beijing’s mas­sive cen­sor­ship team on Weibo, the Party-controlled cen­sored inter­net engine cre­ated and sup­plied by Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions, is work­ing over­time pre­vent­ing the peo­ple of China from see­ing such images.

14-09-29  BLOG Hong Kong protest

Canada’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Prime Min­is­ter, Stephen Harper, cuts a deal with the Com­mu­nist Party to allow them the power to over­ride Canada’s Par­lia­ment for the next 31 years. This took place in Vladi­vos­tok in 2012, but Harper has kept almost all infor­ma­tion about the deal under wraps, and done every­thing in his power to pre­vent debate on the treaty. It was the sub­ject of a sin­gle, one-hour “brief­ing” given to the par­lia­men­tary trade com­mit­tee. Since then, only silence, until a few weeks ago, when its rat­i­fi­ca­tion and the announce­ment that it will go into effect on Octo­ber 1 were revealed in a terse press release… issued on a late Fri­day after­noon, the time reserved for announce­ments the gov­ern­ment hopes will not be noticed and for­got­ten by Monday.

14-09-29  BLOG Harper signs FIPAVet­eran CBC reporter Patrick Brown, an expert on East Asian affairs with more par­lia­men­tary and inter­na­tional news expe­ri­ence under his belt than any­one since the bril­liant Joe Schlesinger, has remarked: “If Stephen Harper ever gets tired of being Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter, he might like to con­sider a sec­ond career in China – he’d fit right in.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014 — The Koch Suckers

Charles and David Koch are the multi-multi-billionaires who cur­rently exer­cise strate­gic con­trol over the Repub­li­can Party in the United States, and, through a vast, labyrinthine net­work of foun­da­tions and dummy cor­po­ra­tions (known to jour­nal­ists as the “Kochto­pus”), con­trol the Tea Party move­ment, most of the key Con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks, and the phony “Lib­er­tar­ian” move­ment. Cana­di­ans have as much to fear from the Koch broth­ers as Amer­i­cans do. They have long been the prin­ci­pal con­sumers of Cana­dian “dirty oil.” Their Pine Bend, Min­nesota facil­i­ties pipe it in to pro­duce pet­coke, a nasty pol­luter that is ille­gal in the United States, then sell it to the Com­mu­nist Party in Bei­jing. They have qui­etly acquired leases for 1.1 mil­lion acres of Alberta oil fields and have nearly dou­ble the direct hold­ings that Exxon­Mo­bil has. In May, Koch Oil Sands Oper­a­tion of Cal­gary sought per­mits to embark on a multi-billion­-dollar tar sands extrac­tion oper­a­tion. [1]

David Koch

David Koch

Alberta tar sands projects are tied to the Com­mu­nist Party in Bei­jing through chan­nels other than the Koch empire. The state oil com­pany, PetroChina, bought out 60% of the assets of the Athabaska Oil Cor­po­ra­tion, a hold­ing com­pany that does no explo­ration or drilling, and is the other major lease­holder in the Athabaska region where the Kochs hold most of their leases. But the intri­cate financ­ing comes from the same sources for both: Gold­man Sachs, with whom the Kochs are closely tied, acts as the joint-leader and book run­ner for the PetroChina deal. [2] Canada’s Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment has suc­cess­fully rammed through its FIPA treaty with Bei­jing, which gives the Com­mu­nist Party the power to over­ride leg­is­la­tion by Canada’s Par­lia­ment for the next 31 years. [3] The Kochs are well-placed to profit from the com­ple­tion of the Key­stone pipeline. But if Key­stone is can­celled, they stand to profit nearly as much, accord­ing to Uni­ver­sity of Alberta indus­try ana­lyst Andrew Leach, since they con­trol the exist­ing refin­ing facil­i­ties in the north. Iron­i­cally, the Kochs ben­e­fit the most from the uncer­tainty cre­ated by the Obama administration’s delays and inde­ci­sion regard­ing the pipeline. [4] It’s prob­a­bly not true, as many think, that the Cana­dian oil is ulti­mately headed for China. But Beijing’s Com­mu­nist aris­toc­racy will be prof­it­ing hand­somely at sev­eral stages, and Cana­dian tar sand oil will dis­place other Amer­i­can imports, which will then be avail­able for other mar­kets, in a game of checker-jumps which ulti­mately ends up with a richer Com­mu­nist Party, and poorer Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­cans.
Read more »

Friday, September 19, 2014 — An Interesting Thought from Mark Thoma

It’s become a cliché that this gen­er­a­tion of macro­econ­o­mists have with­drawn from the actual world and embed­ded them­selves in a cocoon. You can get a Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ics for dream­ing up an equa­tion that doesn’t have to be tested against real events in actual economies. (How the physi­cists, who must wait patiently for con­fir­ma­tion from real­ity, must envy them.) Too much empha­sis on method­ol­ogy, is the usual con­clu­sion. But Mark Thoma, in the Fis­cal Times has some­thing to say about that:

“There has been quite a bit of crit­i­cism directed at the tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use, e.g. crit­i­cism of dynamic sto­chas­tic gen­eral equi­lib­rium (DSGE) mod­els, but that crit­i­cism is mis­placed. The tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use are devel­oped to answer spe­cific ques­tions. If we ask the right ques­tions, then we will find the tools and tech­niques needed to answer them. The prob­lem with macro­eco­nom­ics is not that it has become overly math­e­mat­i­cal – it is not the tools and tech­niques we use to answer ques­tions. The prob­lem is the soci­ol­ogy within the eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sion that pre­vents some ques­tions from being asked. Why, for exam­ple, were the very ques­tions we needed to ask prior to the Great Reces­sion ridiculed by impor­tant voices within the pro­fes­sion? The key to a bet­ter eco­nom­ics is to ask bet­ter ques­tions, and that will require a much more open mind – par­tic­u­larly from those in charge of what gets pub­lished in eco­nomic jour­nals – about the kinds of ques­tions econ­o­mists are allowed to ask.”

This is an inter­pre­ta­tion that would be under­stood by some­one in the nat­ural sci­ences (e.g. geo­physics, or epi­demi­ol­ogy, or cli­ma­tol­ogy.) Ask­ing the right ques­tions is the key. Thoma asks why these ques­tions were actively dis­cour­aged. He knows the answer, but leaves us to con­nect the dots. It was the result of a pro­fes­sion being hijacked by an aggres­sive ide­ol­ogy bent on sup­press­ing real inquiry, and sub­sti­tut­ing a kind of Lysenkoist agenda. It was made pos­si­ble by a revamped sys­tem in which the prin­ci­ples of aca­d­e­mic auton­omy and objec­tive inquiry have become mere ecto­plas­mic traces. Macro­econ­o­mists who did ask the right ques­tions didn’t seem to get far in aca­d­e­mic careers, or end up in the cushy cir­cum­stances that more “co-operative” ones did. Or rather, that’s the case in the core, but not nec­es­sar­ily in the periph­ery. The seri­ous ques­tion­ing tends to take place in second-tier uni­ver­si­ties, where the moose or the wal­la­bies nib­ble the shrub­bery around the quad­ran­gle. All the more power to ‘em, I say. Lysenko’s ghost can’t patrol them all.

There has been quite a bit of crit­i­cism directed at the tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use, e.g. crit­i­cism of dynamic sto­chas­tic gen­eral equi­lib­rium (DSGE) mod­els, but that crit­i­cism is mis­placed. The tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use are devel­oped to answer spe­cific ques­tions. If we ask the right ques­tions, then we will find the tools and tech­niques needed to answer them.

The prob­lem with macro­eco­nom­ics is not that it has become overly math­e­mat­i­cal – it is not the tools and tech­niques we use to answer ques­tions. The prob­lem is the soci­ol­ogy within the eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sion that pre­vents some ques­tions from being asked. Why, for exam­ple, were the very ques­tions we needed to ask prior to the Great Reces­sion ridiculed by impor­tant voices within the profession?

The key to a bet­ter eco­nom­ics is to ask bet­ter ques­tions, and that will require a much more open mind – par­tic­u­larly from those in charge of what gets pub­lished in eco­nomic jour­nals – about the kinds of ques­tions econ­o­mists are allowed to ask.

- See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2014/09/16/Can-New-Economic-Thinking-Solve-Next-Crisis#sthash.LiClsQFW.dpuf

There has been quite a bit of crit­i­cism directed at the tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use, e.g. crit­i­cism of dynamic sto­chas­tic gen­eral equi­lib­rium (DSGE) mod­els, but that crit­i­cism is mis­placed. The tools and tech­niques that macro­econ­o­mists use are devel­oped to answer spe­cific ques­tions. If we ask the right ques­tions, then we will find the tools and tech­niques needed to answer them.

The prob­lem with macro­eco­nom­ics is not that it has become overly math­e­mat­i­cal – it is not the tools and tech­niques we use to answer ques­tions. The prob­lem is the soci­ol­ogy within the eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sion that pre­vents some ques­tions from being asked. Why, for exam­ple, were the very ques­tions we needed to ask prior to the Great Reces­sion ridiculed by impor­tant voices within the profession?

The key to a bet­ter eco­nom­ics is to ask bet­ter ques­tions, and that will require a much more open mind – par­tic­u­larly from those in charge of what gets pub­lished in eco­nomic jour­nals – about the kinds of ques­tions econ­o­mists are allowed to ask.

- See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2014/09/16/Can-New-Economic-Thinking-Solve-Next-Crisis#sthash.LiClsQFW.dpuf

Thursday, September 18, 2014 — Romancing the Volcano

I can’t help it. I’ve fallen in love with a vol­cano. It’s so damn beau­ti­ful. Here is a video from Feel Ice­land TV. In the plane are Haukur Snor­ra­son, pho­tog­ra­pher & his son (un-named), and reporter Lára Ómars­dót­tir. The music is by Jónas Har­alds­son. Note on scale: the lava field shown is the size of Man­hat­tan.

if it won’t play go to YOUTUBE

Now here are some pho­tographs, taken ridicu­lously close up, by not-quite-sane pho­tog­ra­pher Valdimar Leifsson:

Valdimar Leifsson 1Valdimar Leifsson 2

Two Excellent Historical Novels by V. M. Whitworth

Æthelflæd as depicted in the cartulary of Abingdon Abbey

Æthelflæd as depicted in the car­tu­lary of Abing­don Abbey

V. M. Whitworth’s The Bone Thief (Ebury, 2012), and it’s sequel The Traitor’s Pit (Ebury, 2013) are exem­plary his­tor­i­cal nov­els. The author is known, by another name, as a medieval his­to­rian. I read the first book merely out of curios­ity, because I knew her schol­arly work. But, after a few pages, I was hooked. The set­ting is Eng­land Before Eng­land Was, the reigns of Æthelred, King of Mer­cia and Edward of Wes­sex, who was soon to unify the two king­doms and make con­sid­er­able inroads on the Danelaw. The future Eng­land has long been split between Pagan and Chris­t­ian kings, but the Norse Gods are fad­ing as the Scan­di­na­vian con­querors are adopt­ing Chris­tian­ity (with vary­ing degrees of sin­cer­ity), and the two cul­tures are merg­ing. The action of the first book is inspired by an inci­dent recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chron­i­cle as occur­ring in the year 909. The fic­tional hero is Wulf­gar, a young cleric in the ser­vice of his­tor­i­cal Æthelflæd, who is one of the more inter­est­ing women known from the period. For years, Æthelred has been too ill to rule, and The Lady of the Mer­cians rules in his stead. In The Bone Thief, she sends Wulf­gar on a secret mis­sion into the Viking-controlled Five Bur­roughs, to obtain the bones of St. Oswald, which she hopes will rally peo­ple to the Mer­cian cause. The bones have been lost, but are buried anony­mously behind Bard­ney Abbey (which in 2014 is noth­ing more than a few stony lumps in a field north­west of the vil­lage of Bard­ney — see image below). Wulf­gar is a timid soul, and is soon over­whelmed by the con­spir­a­cies, treach­eries, and bru­tal­ity of royal power pol­i­tics. He has been cho­sen for the task pri­mar­ily because he speaks some Dan­ish. No adventure-seeker, he has a naïve belief in most of the things he was taught, which oth­ers around him regard as use­ful fic­tions or dis­pos­able for­mal­i­ties. In the sequel, he is assigned yet another mis­sion, while at the same time try­ing to prove the inno­cence of his elder brother, who has been charged with par­tic­i­pat­ing in an attempt on the life of Edward. This leads into even more con­vo­luted pol­i­tics, vio­lence, and tragedy. In both books, Wulf­gar is con­stantly men­aced by his neme­sis, a bul­ly­ing and bru­tal half-brother, and con­stantly aided by a fierce and rogu­ish Dano-English female adven­turer. Read more »

Friday, September 12, 2014 — Bárðarbunga Walk

Yes, some peo­ple actu­ally do walk away from an explo­sion with­out look­ing back.…

14-09-12 BLOG Bárðarbunga walkAn Ice­landic vul­ca­nol­o­gist is obvi­ously fed up with Bárðarbunga’s tem­per tantrums. Those lava plumes are higher than most city skyscrapers.

A land­scape I walked on a few years ago no longer exists. Yes­ter­day, sul­phur diox­ide lev­els peaked at 2600μg/m3 (sig­nif­i­cantly dan­ger­ous) at Reyðar­fjörður, a fish­ing town on the east coast. When the lava flow reaches a small moun­tain called Vaðalda, its path will nar­row, with unpre­dictable results. The Skí­nandi water­fall, a land­mark, appears to be doomed. The worst dan­ger remains pos­si­ble: a jökulh­laup, or mas­sive out­burst of glacial melt, accom­pa­nied by toxic ash clouds

Pho­tos by Axel Sig­urðs­son / Morgunblaðið.

14-09-12 BLOG Bárðarbunga fly14-09-12 BLOG Bárðarbunga sattelite